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Archive for April, 2010

Got Shade? Get Ferns!

Ferns and hosta in a woodland garden

Ferns add wonderful texture to the garden!

I love ferns.

I never thought about having them in my garden until we built our house in the woods. Now they are our very close friends!

For me, ferns evoke memories of quiet walks through the misty woodlands of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Up there, the cool, moist forest floor is covered with an abundance of different kinds of ferns. At our house, there is a wooded “swale” that we have nurtured as a natural woodland garden where azaleas, ferns, hosta, and wildflowers abound – but the ferns are the highlight. Their great diversity in foliage is a wonderful compliment to the large-leaved hosta, Polygonatum, native hollies and, of course, the huge oak and hickory trees.

Fern fiddlehead

Fiddleheads are tiny fronds all rolled up in a ball!

The fiddleheads are one of the cooler stages of fern growth. In the early spring, the emergence of these fascinating fiddleheads provides additional interest in the garden. Seeing how these tightly coiled packages unfurl into delicate fronds is certainly an amazing thing!

Ferns have now become so popular that every year new and even more exciting cultivars are being developed. Why?

Cinnamon Fern

Cinnamon ferns produce interesting "cinnamon stick" fertile fronds.

Because they provide a beautiful natural look in the garden! They’re awesome! Their leaves vary in color and texture from the delicate, lacy fronds of Ghost Fern and Japanese Painted Fern to the bold, leathery, deep green fronds of Christmas Fern and Tassel Fern.

Cinnamon ferns are fun because they have the interesting fertile fronds that poke up from the center of the clump like big cinnamon sticks – hence the name. They are large and bold and make quite a statement in the garden.

Athyrium nipponicum 'Pictum'

Beautiful Japanese Painted Fern

Another one of my favorites is the Japanese Painted Fern. Andre’s father, Martin Viette, actually introduced this fern into the nursery trade from the gardens of Alex Summers on Long Island. It is a delightful fern with bright silver, red, and green variegation. I have some planted around a beautiful Japanese maple – talk about a striking combination!

I mentioned Ghost Fern before – that’s another neat one. It’s a hybrid of Japanese Painted Fern and Lady-fern with silvery pale green fronds – stunning. That would be awesome with a Japanese maple backdrop or planted among some of the red leaved Heuchera cultivars! Oooooo, I think I’ll plant that combination this summer!

Maidenhair Fern

Amazing Maidenhair Fern!

And how cool is Maidenhair fern with its graceful spiral fronds! It looks so delicate in the garden with bright green foliage swirling around on dark stems – an amazing splash of texture to the woodland garden.

You gotta get some ferns!

Until next time, Happy Gardening – with ferns!

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Dandelion flowers are bright and cheery even if they are a bothersome weed.

Dandelion flowers are bright and cheery even if they are a bothersome weed.

I was thinking about dandelions the other day – actually I’ve been thinking about dandelions a lot lately. They seem to be everywhere; the ubiquitous lawn weeds! Actually, I think they’re rather pretty – so bright and colorful in the lawn, like an oasis in a giant sea of green! When we were kids, my sisters and I had to go out each spring and dig up all the dandelions we could find in the lawn. “Be sure to get the whole root or it will grow back,” my dad would say! If only they would just bloom and then go away, it would have saved us from a lot of work! But of course they don’t.

Dandelion seed heads are filled with seeds ready to float away on a gentle breeze.

Dandelion seed heads are filled with seeds ready to float away on a gentle breeze.

They have the nasty habit of going to seed and then spreading all over the place. First you have a few in the lawn, and then you have an epidemic! And, what little kid can pass up the temptation of blowing on a dandelion seed head just to watch the little “parachutes” float away on the wind? I know I did it – but it sure annoyed the grownups when I was caught in the act!

So … you have this great idea that you’ll chop the dandelions off with your mower before they go to seed. But, after you mow, they’re still there blooming away in all their golden glory. How very frustrating! Well, here’s an interesting characteristic of dandelions that I never really noticed before. Have you ever watched the progression of their flowering cycle? When they are blooming, the flower stems are relatively short which keeps the flowers close to the ground. This is especially evident when they are growing in your lawn. Dandelions have developed this clever little adaptation as a defense against herbivory – and what is your lawn mower but a giant mechanical herbivore (in a manner of speaking)! Flowers and foliage that grow close to the ground are less likely to be nibbled off by browsing herbivores/lawn mowers.

In a spurt of growth, the stems carrying the dandelion seed heads shoot upward well above the original height of the flower.

In a spurt of growth, the stems carrying the dandelion seed heads shoot upward well above the original height of the flower.

Once the flower closes and the seeds are formed, the dandelion stem undergoes a rapid growth spurt. Seemingly over night, the stems shoot up 2 or 3 times the height of the original flower stalk. Of course this occurs right after you’ve mowed the lawn and the tall, fluffy seed heads rise well above your neatly manicured lawn! How do they do that? That’s evolution for you! Survival of the quickest (grower that is)! And there they are, like a bunch of time bombs above your beautiful grass ready explode and spread their seeds with the next puff of wind!

There are products you can use to eradicate these bothersome weeds from your lawn. Pre-emergence weed killers can prevent dandelion seeds from germinating or post-emergence weed killers such as Bonide Weed Beater Ultra or Gordon’s Speed Zone can destroy the weed itself. Bonide Weed Beater Complete and Bayer Advanced Season Long Weed Control for Lawns contain both pre-emergence and post-emergence herbicides. Always read and follow the label directions whenever you use any pesticide!

But before you rid your landscape of dandelions entirely, remember the wise words of Eeyore, “Weeds are wildflowers, too, once you get to know them!”

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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That’s what Andre kept repeating over and over as we walked through the Viette gardens yesterday.

“Bring your camera and meet me in the gardens”, Andre said to me yesterday morning. “You’ll never see them like this again.” They ARE truly spectacular right now. I was snapping pictures left and right.

Azalea yedoense

Beautiful double blooming azalea

“Come over here!” Andre would call, “Just look at this double blooming azalea! Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?” Yes, I was impressed. It was a lovely double variety of the very hardy evergreen Korean Azalea, Azalea yedoense. More pictures!

A double rose colored quince

Flowering quince, Cydonia 'Rosa Plena', has beautiful double blooms.

“And look at these Chinese quince; how spectacular! They’re all in full bloom. Look! There are three different red varieties right over there beside each other.” The three cultivars, Cydonia sinensis ‘Rose Plena’, ‘Texas Scarlet’, and ‘Fire Dance’ were beautiful and near peak bloom. More pictures!

Double blooming quince

A beautiful flowering quince with double salmon flowers

“All these trees and shrubs are blooming at the same time! I’ve never seen anything like it in all my life!” This sense of awe and wonderment was evident the entire time we were walking around. Andre was like a kid in a candy store. What a delight to walk through the gardens with him!

Why are the gardens so amazing this spring? According to Andre, it was the very warm weather that we experienced early in the spring. And not just a day or two but extended over several weeks! These early high temperatures have shortened the season and caused everything to pop into bloom at once.

“Look, the lilacs are blooming already! I’ve never seen lilacs in bloom with the crabapples!”

It’s not just the timing, either. The bloom count is phenomenal this year! Every spring blooming tree and shrub is loaded with blossoms this year. “It’s unbelievable! The white crabapples are like giant trees of snow!”

Crabapple blossoms

The crabapples are so full of blossoms this year!

“Listen to that!” Andre said. “Do you hear that roar? It’s the bees in the crabapples. So many bees – it’s amazing!” The crabapples were alive with the buzzing of industrious bees moving from flower to flower high above us.

The flower show is tremendous! The air is warm and perfumed with the sweet scent of lilacs and viburnum! What a glorious time to be in the gardens! I just love spring!

Visit our website to see more photos of our beautiful spring gardens. Better yet, plan a visit to the farm! Our gardens are always open for your enjoyment!

Spring Blooming Trees at Viette's

The white blooming form of redbud stands out against the pink blooms of a flowering crabapple. White crabapples and a pink redbud add to the beauty of the landscape.

I can only hope that this is a sign of great things to come in the gardens this year! I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the iris and peony blooms in May. If the early spring blooms are any indication, the show should be magnificent!

Until next time, Happy Gardening!

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Tent caterpillars can defoliate a tree very quickly if left unchecked.

Well, it’s that time of year again! I saw the tell-tale signs on the way to the nursery yesterday – the beginnings of the familiar, yet dreaded tent caterpillar webs starting to form in the crotches of the small cherries at the side of the road. Today, they’re bigger! Everyday they will grow … little webs will grow into bigger webs; little caterpillars will grow into big leaf-eating machines crawling over the branches devouring every bit of green foliage on the tree until it looks like winter has returned! Nasty little critters! I know they must serve some purpose in the greater scheme of things but I sure haven’t figured out what that might be – food for the birds, I guess. Yes, I’m sure that must be why they exist!

Well, what can you do about them? “Knock ’em out while they are small”, Andre always says. It’s the best time and you don’t have to resort to using chemical insecticides. Wage biological warfare!! When they are small, they can be eradicated with a lovely little bacterium called Bt (short for Bacillus thuringiensis). Bt (also sold under the trade name Dipel) produces a natural insecticide and has been used by organic farmers for years to safely control many insect pests. Just spray it on the foliage and when the caterpillar eats the leaves, they ingest the Bt which produces a toxin that basically dissolves their gut and kills them within a few days – no harm to the environment or beneficial insects! And … even though it takes a few days for the caterpillars to die, the best part is that they stop eating within a few hours so your trees are saved from defoliation! Good stuff – and environmentally responsible, too! Look for Bonide Thuricide (BT) Liquid Concentrate or Dipel; they should be right on the shelf of your full service garden store.

Watch this Viette video tip for another interesting way to get rid of tent caterpillars! Along this line, my husband will poke a stick into the web and wind the web, caterpillars and all, up on the end of the stick and then stomp them into the ground! Ahhhhh – revenge is sweet!

A tent caterpillar egg mass encircles a branch tip of this crabapple tree.

Another way to get rid of tent caterpillars is to break their life cycle by destroying their egg masses before they hatch. These egg masses are found encircling the tips of small branches of host trees from July – February. Some of their favorite trees are cherries, crabapples, and apples. Sometimes you can prune off the branch tips containing egg cases but a more effective way to destroy the eggs is to spray the trees thoroughly with a horticultural oil such as Bonide All Seasons Oil to smother and kill the eggs. If you have tent caterpillars this spring, put a reminder in your gardening calendar for a late fall spraying with horticultural oil. This will also help control many other insect pests that overwinter in your garden! Read more about the benefits of horticultural oil.

Until next time … Happy Gardening!

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The lower portion of this boxwood is lush and full where the snow protected it from cold damage. The upper portion suffered wind burn and cold damage.

If they could talk, that’s what your plants would say about our record snowfall this past winter. It’s true – snow is an excellent insulator! I received an e-mail the other day that got me thinking about this. A fellow gardener wrote that several newly planted Leyland cypress trees (I’m assuming they were planted in the late fall) had turned brown over the winter but only the tops – the bottom portion of the small trees were green and healthy looking. The snow blanket was at work!

This was a hard winter with prolonged periods of very cold temperatures and some very windy days. As luck would have it (for your plants anyway), those extended periods of cold temperatures kept the snow around through the coldest days of the winter.

The other day as Mark Viette and I walked around the beautiful Viette gardens, we noticed a lot of damage to the broadleaved evergreens, including hollies and boxwood. For many, the damage was limited to the upper portions of the shrubs; the lower 18″ or so was lush and beautifully green. The snow blanket, again! Anti-desiccants like Bonide Wilt Stop can minimize winter damage by preserving the waxy coating on boxwood and holly over the winter and protecting them from wind burn and sunscald.

Holly and snow blanket

The blanket of snow protected the bottom of this English Holly. Notice the shiny green foliage. Above the snow line, the foliage is dull and wind burned and the leaf tips are damaged.

Cold temperatures, wind, and bright sun are hard on evergreens but under that blanket of snow, they are protected from harsh temperature extremes – it’s always about 32 degrees under there even when the air temperature is below zero! Talk about a microclimate! It’s a whole different world under the snow – stable temperature, no wind, and no glaring sun – perfect for preserving the beautiful glossy green color of your evergreen shrubs or for protecting the tender flower buds of spring blooming shrubs.

My sister who lives in southern Vermont has some Viburnum in her extensive gardens that often bloom just at the bottom. Why? Well, the snow blanket  protects the flower buds at the bottom of the shrub. The flower buds on the stems that poke up above the snow aren’t protected from the cold and are usually frozen during the winter, hence lovely blooms at the bottom and none at the top! Cool, huh! Well, as a point of interest, anyway. I guess she’d rather have her whole Viburnum covered with blooms! I wish I had some pictures to show. This can happen with other flowering shrubs as well, like certain varieties of Hydrangea and Azalea.

Just so you know … I AM aware of the damage that can be caused by the weight of a heavy snow. Many evergreens were broken and misshapen by their load of snow. So, it’s not all good; I’m just trying to look at the bright side! Most of the time, these trees and shrubs will spring back after the snow melts. If not, here are some tips to manage the damage.

So … back to the e-mail. The Leyland cypress may be OK – time will tell. The fact that they were newly planted made them more susceptible to winter damage. If the tops DO die out, they can be pruned out but the trees will forever be misshapen and weird looking. The problem with Leyland cypress (also pines, spruces, junipers, and many other needled evergreens) is that they don’t have dormant buds on the branches like boxwood and yews, for instance. If they are cut back hard (beyond where there is green growth), they won’t grow out again because there aren’t any buds to break into growth.

Well, this post was much longer than I meant it to be! I’ll try to be more concise next time! Let me know if you have any interesting gardening stories related to our hard, snowy winter!

Until next time, Happy Gardening

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